Losing one All-American player to graduation can be extremely challenging. Replacing three is difficult on an entirely new level. But that’s what the Columbia College women’s basketball team is facing this season.
All-Americans Charliss Ridley, Tiffany Foote and Lisa Kowalewski have moved on.
“We lost over 6,500 career total points from last year,” coach Mike Davis said. “We have to move on. Those players are gone, and we have to get better without them.”
With only one Cougars player in the starting lineup returning from last year’s 31-6 squad that made it to the second round of the NAIA National Tournament, Columbia dropped its season opener 73-68 to MidAmerica Nazarene on Tuesday night at Southwell Complex.
Junior forward LeAnn Fossum, an All-American Midwest Conference player last season, is the Cougars’ lone familiar face. She says this season is her opportunity to shine.
“I’m excited for the new beginning for me,” Fossum said. “I won’t play all that differently, but I have to be more of a leader now.”
Fossum took advantage of seeing more touches by scoring 19 points for the Cougars, 10 points above her average last season. But Fossum also stood out in other ways, repeatedly diving for loose balls in the middle of a pile of players.
“LeAnn is an active player,” Davis said. “She involves herself on lots of plays. She works hard every minute that she’s out there.”
Fossum snatched six rebounds, five of those on the offensive boards. She also had three steals in the game, and forced two jump balls on the defensive end of the court.
However, sometimes Fossum’s aggressiveness and desire to get a loose ball can get her into trouble, which was the case Tuesday night.
Fossum sat on the bench much of the second half with four fouls. As she watched, MidAmerica Nazarene built a 51-44 lead.
“It’s tremendously important that she stays out of foul trouble,” Davis said. “We have to figure out a way to play hard and not foul out. We’re going to need extended minutes out of LeAnn this year. We need 30 minutes from her every game.”